WASHINGTON — A never-before-seen missile photographed last month on a Russian MiG-31 interceptor is believed to be a mock-up of an anti-satellite weapon that will be ready for warfare by 2022, three sources with direct knowledge of a U.S. intelligence report say.
The Russian anti-satellite weapon, which is attached to a space launch vehicle, is expected to target communication and imagery satellites in low Earth orbit, according to one source, who spoke on condition of anonymity. For reference, the International Space Station and the Hubble Space Telescope travel in low Earth orbit.
Images of the mysterious missile on a modified Russian MiG-31, a supersonic near-space interceptor, appeared in mid-September.
Initial testing of the mock system began in September and is slated to run through Wednesday, according to one of the sources. The tests, which are referred to as a "captive carry tests," are designed to evaluate the mock weapon during flight, according to the source.
"These are the types of tests you do first in order to gain confidence that the weapon and air frame are going to work together during flight," a source explained to CNBC, adding that the next testing milestone will occur in 2019.
The Russians are expected to conduct weapon releases tests next year, when the mock system is to be launched from the belly of the aircraft. What's more, sources with direct knowledge of the U.S. intelligence report expect the weapon to join the Kremlin's arsenal by 2022.